Saturday, August 22, 2020

Letter to Staff--We are union, and we demand safety for us, our students, and our families.

Dear colleagues,

I hope you and your families are doing well and keeping occupied at this extremely trying time. I apologize in advance for being an agent of further complication, but we all have our jobs to do. Our job now is to stand as one and fight for our safety, and the safety of our families and community. 

I often say we are the second most important outside influence for our students. The most important outside influence would be medical professionals. There is nothing more basic or fundamental than health and safety. As much as I want my students to learn and love English, their health and wellness comes first. That goes for us, our families, and our students’ families as well. 

Every time I read someone advocating opening buildings, they have a proviso. They say of course, if it doesn’t work out, we’ll go back to remote learning. In fact there are a lot of places where it didn’t work out, and they did just that. There’s Israel, South Korea, multiple schools in the south and southwest, and universities that saw immediate rises in infection levels, while starting below Mayor de Blasio’s much ballyhooed 3% positive level (so much for that). Chapel Hill closed in one week.

There’s a real cost to these openings, and that cost is the health of those who attend. I know some of you who’ve been very sick. I know some of you who’ve lost family members. I’ve had family members sick, and I lost a friend. 

The whole country is looking to us as the only major city that can possibly open school buildings. UFT has looked at this, and decided that if we are to open, the only way to do it is safely. We’ve therefore consulted with medical experts, some of whom you can see at Mulgrew’s press conference, and concluded the only way to deal with the virus was to actively test for it and trace it.

We don’t want a single educator or student to get sick. We don’t want any students or employees bringing COVID home to their families. The UFT demands for testing were created in consultation with medical experts. They are beyond reasonable; they are visionary. We’ve looked at the failures and determined ways to preclude them. Our testing demands are based on science. The mayor’s opposition is based on hiding his head in the sand and hoping for the best.

Here is a checklist of what UFT will be looking at as we visit every building in the city. UFT also demands a Covid Building Response Team to create protocols for how students will move when entering and leaving school, and also to map out responses to issues that may occur. Finally, to ensure safety, we demand that everyone entering the school building be tested for the virus. We demand random testing to ensure we stay safe.

UFT will not allow its members or the students we serve to be veritable canaries in a coal mine. Dr. Fauci can talk about how we’re part of a great experiment, but we refuse to be guinea pigs. We refuse to make guinea pigs of our families, our students, or their families. If Mayor de Blasio refuses to make schools safe, we will refuse to work.

Just as the nation looks to New York City, the city looks to our school. We’re the most requested school in the city for a reason, and we need to stand as one and set an example. We are literally fighting for our lives, not to mention those of our students and all our families. 

We are not alone in this fight. We stand with 200,000 brother and sister unionists in the United Federation of Teachers. It’s not out of the question that other unions will join us. In fact, the principals’ union wants to delay opening

We have other allies. The NY Daily News editorial board, which generally hates us and everything we stand for, says we are right. The city council thinks the mayor is premature. Even Governor Cuomo thinks going to city schools is a risky proposition

If Mayor de Blasio pushes us toward a job action or strike, we have to stand as one. That is what union is, and that is what union means. We will meet to discuss this on Thursday, August 27th at 9 AM. District Rep. James Vasquez and someone from leadership will join us. I will follow up with details. 

Please join me.

Best regards, 


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